TAMPA ― Deshaun Watson has played his last down for the Houston Texans.
That’s something everybody can agree on. The quarterback was paid his $10.54 million in base salary in 2021 but by mutual agreement wasn’t in uniform for games and didn’t practice with the team.
He has control over where he plays, because he owns a no-trade clause — one of 11 NFL players granted such clout.
But the best ability is availability, and Watson is available through a trade, should he agree to it.
There have been reports that the Bucs are doing their homework on Watson and Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, among others.
In many ways, Watson may be the best option for the Bucs, while at the same time being the most expensive, controversial and risky.
Watson faces 22 lawsuits tied to allegations of sexual assault and misconduct. Ten women also have filed criminal complaints with Houston police. It’s a huge problem for any team wanting to trade for him.
But let’s start with Watson the player, who was so good in his first four seasons that he earned a four-year, $156 million contract that included a $27 million signing bonus.
Watson led Clemson to two national championship games, losing to Alabama as a sophomore in the 2015 season. He won the Davey O’Brien award as the nation’s top quarterback. The next year, his Tigers beat the Crimson Tide to win the national title.
The Texans selected Watson 12th overall in the first round of the 2017 draft, and he emerged as a starter in Week 2. However, he tore his ACL in November, prematurely ending his rookie season.
When Bucs quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen watches video of Watson, what will jump out is his accuracy, arm strength and mobility.
Watson led the Texans to consecutive division titles in 2018-19 and led the league with 4,823 passing yards, 33 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 2020 while being named to his third straight Pro Bowl. His career completion percentage of 67.8 percent is the highest of all time (minimum 1,500 attempts). He also rushed for 1,408 yards during his three seasons as a starter.
The Texans just hired Lovie Smith, who took a chance on Jameis Winston when he faced sexual assault allegations coming out of Florida State. But Smith can’t prevent the Texans from trading Watson, who said he wouldn’t play for them after they failed to let him provide input over the hiring of a coach and/or general manager several years ago.
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“There’s no other answer to give right now except for that one,” Smith told Sports Illustrated, “and we’re going to try to get it resolved as soon as we possibly can.”
Regardless of Watson’s off-field problems, the draft compensation being asked by Texans general manager Nick Caserio hasn’t changed much.
The Houston Chronicle reported the Texans have asked for three first-round picks and two second-round picks for Watson. Eight teams originally were in the Watson sweepstakes, with the Dolphins, Broncos, Eagles and Panthers showing the most interest. Watson used his no-trade clause to eliminate Philadelphia, which seems pleased with Jalen Hurts.
The Dolphins had a deal with the Texans right before the trade deadline in October to acquire Watson for three first-round picks, along with third- and fifth-round selections. But Miami owner Stephen Ross insisted Watson reach settlements with his accusers before the deadline.
Multiple teams have let Caserio know they are interested in Watson if he reaches settlements, which has yet to happen. The first deposition in the civil cases is scheduled to be taken later this month. The cases are disturbing, to say the least, with Watson’s accusers saying he exposed himself, and in some cases forced them into sexual acts during massage sessions.
You have two major problems with acquiring Watson: the draft compensation and the legal entanglements.
Even if the Bucs were willing to part with a minimum of three first-round picks, they select 27th in the 2022 draft. The Eagles own three first-round picks in 2022; the Giants have two.
But the Bucs are built to win now, and as the Rams just proved by winning Super Bowl 56, using draft picks to acquire proven players ― especially at quarterback ― is a pretty good way to go.
We’ve addressed the legal issues, and ownership would have to sign off on any deal. The Glazer family didn’t balk at drafting Winston and had no reaction when he was suspended three games for violating the personal conduct policy after allegations that he sexually assaulted an Uber driver.
They also didn’t prevent the signing of receiver Antonio Brown twice. Brown was suspended for eight games after pleading no contest to charges of assaulting a moving truck driver and reached a settlement with a personal trainer who alleged he sexually assaulted her on three occasions.
Since his legal issues aren’t likely to be solved before the draft, any team trading for Watson must be prepared for him to be suspended eventually by the league. Three or four games probably wouldn’t dissuade teams, but they have no way of knowing whether he eventually could miss half or even a full season.
But there’s no denying Watson is among the most productive quarterbacks available. He’s also only 26 and signed through 2026, although the cap hit in each of the next two years is more than $40 million.
Unlike some other quarterbacks the Bucs are researching, Watson would give the Bucs a franchise player at that position for the long-term. Highly productive, with a championship pedigree.
Unlike Wilson or Aaron Rodgers, he’s available right now, he’s young and can allow the Bucs to remain a Super Bowl contender.
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